This week is Maternal Mental Health Awareness week. I like to think I’ve been open in my sharing of my motherhood experiences, baring my soul at times about the joyful highs and tearful lows I’ve experienced over the past couple of years. To me, there’s nothing more powerful than talking about our experiences as parents- connecting with other mothers who are able to celebrate and console, relate and advise, all in equal measure.
We can’t help but feel pressure to achieve, achieve, achieve as women- aceing not only this motherhood gig but also simultaneously keeping up with work, ‘bossing it’ and ‘hustling’ and launching sideline start-ups, and staying fit and trim and looking like we never were even pregnant in the first place.
What I’ve learnt more than anything since becoming a mother is this:
It’s not possible to succeed at everything all the time.
The plate-spinning is relentless, and I feel I’m forever losing control of one thing or another at any one time. Either my work gets sidelined and Ottilie happily has my undivided attention all day long, or CBeebies goes on and suddenly I’ve got time to tick off my to-do list. In a week where I’ve managed to get the house cleaned and tidy and the laundry baskets emptied and the kitchen cupboards are full with ingredients for home cooked meals, you can bet your bottom dollar I won’t be making it out to any Pilates or yoga classes in the evenings because I’m just too shattered!
I’m learning that as mothers, we have to take care of ourselves as carefully as we do our precious children. Here’s to us <3
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1. Everyone’s experience is valid, but not all advice is appropriate.
By this I mean that whilst as a Mum you’ll undoubtedly be given an avalanche of tips and helpful anecdotal advice from other parents, but whilst the experiences of those giving the advice are always valuable in their own right, you yourself have every right to take it with a pinch of salt. ESPECIALLY in the early days, when the advice often is aimed at helping you get your nocturnal bundle of joy to appreciate the value of sleep, and the ‘breastmilk doesn’t fill them up enough so give a bottle of formula at bedtime/cosleeping is a rod for your own back’ type comments come in thick and fast!
2. Every baby and child really is unique.
And that uniqueness is apparent from before they’re even born! When I was pregnant with Ottilie, she would kick up a storm each night between about half 9 and half 11 in the evening. And then she was born, she used to be wide awake and ready to party at that exact time of the evening every single day!
In my opinion, the personality and will of a child is unique and individual and it’s all we can do as parents to nurture it. They all develop at their own predetermined rates- for example, at 19 months Ottie is stringing words together into little three or four word sentences, can count from 1-10 (though often forgets six and starts at 3!!), and blows my mind with her vocabulary. But she didn’t walk until 14 months, still trips over constantly and asks for help with going up and down the stairs even though she’s fully capable of doing it herself, and isn’t especially physically confident. I used to worry about her being slow to master physical skills, but now I’ve learnt to relax!
3. The management of parental life admin can sometimes feel overwhelming.
I have these moments sometimes that make me feel really and truly like a Mum, and they’re always the silly, insignificant things. Cutting Ottilie’s nails so they aren’t too long and end up scratching her. Buying her new shoes when she’s grown out of the old ones (though probably noticing about two weeks late that she’s grown out of the old ones…). Keeping the house fully stocked with Calpol, nappies, and baby shampoo. Negotiating a sunhat and suntan lotion onto a reluctant toddler. Keeping an eye on her day’s intake of food- has she eaten a balanced diet, or subsisted on toast all day long?
These are the moments of parenting, the minutiae of making sure Ottilie is cared for and provided for in every single way, that make me feel most like a Mum and also sometimes overwhelm me with the responsibility of the job. It feels like my brain might burst sometimes, and I wonder if all parents feel like that or if I’m just still adjusting to my role as a parent?
4.You’re never. ever. alone.
You know you’re a parent when you utter the words ‘No Mummy doesn’t need help wiping, thank you’ whilst on the toilet…
5. No food you ever serve your child will be as appetising as what’s on your plate.
We taught Ottie the word ‘share’, and now she uses back at us to request whatever we’re eating!
6. Bugs and colds and bouts of illness are just the worst…
Both for baby and you! There’s nothing quite like having to entertain an energetic toddler for 12 hours when you’ve got a raging migraine, and seeing your baby in pain is truly the worst thing in the world. Thank God for Calpol, is all I can say!
7. Having babies really does take it’s toll on your body!
During pregnancy I was super lucky and had allllll the good symptoms. Shiny, bouncy hair, strong nails, glowing skin, tons of energy. But afterwards I felt like a shell of a woman for months! Growing a baby for nine months, delivering them, and then supporting their growth through breastfeeding takes such a lot from your body, and it’s normal to feel depleted. Next time around I’m going to keep taking my vitamins, not give them up the second I give birth like a stupidly did after having Ottie!!
8. Their joy is your joy!
It’s true what parents always say, that seeing your child happy is the best thing in the world. Treating Ottilie to a new book at the bookshop or a toy bake set for her pretend kitchen feels like a gift to myself! I even bought Ottie a pair of Peppa Pig slippers a couple of months ago despite my own pathological hatred of branded character clothing, because I knew she’d love them! That really is true love.
9. Other Mums are a lifeline.
There’s a generosity of spirit and sense of community amongst mothers that I think is truly unique. Our shared experiences make it so easy to connect and open conversation, and whether those conversations happen between you and your lifelong best friend, on your NCT group’s WhatsApp thread, or via Instagram DMs, it’s a special thing.
10. That rush of love at birth might take a while to come.
I did experience that initial rush of love for Ottilie, but then my overwhelming feeling in the hours that followed was just…of being overwhelmed!
It wasn’t until the following day, when I’d been taken down for an MRI scan on my spine to assess whether the epidural I’d had during labour had caused me permanent spinal damage (a real treat for a new mother, let me tell you!) that I suddenly was floored by a rush of love for Ottie and a desperate urge to be back with my baby so strong that I genuinely wondered whether I could crawl all the way back to the maternity unit rather than wait for a porter to come and push me back in the wheelchair. It’s to this day the most powerful feeling I’ve ever experienced.
11. You develop an encyclopaedic knowledge of nursery rhymes .
Though the fact that every rhyme time and playgroup I go to seems to sing a slightly different version of ‘Hop Little Bunnies’ does throw me for a loop.
12. You might surprise yourself, as a parent.
I’ve always been an incredibly impatient person. If I can’t get something right straight away or achieve it immediately I’m just not interested, and I’ve got a fairly short temper too. But with Ottie, I’d say one of my strongest traits as a mother is how patient I am! Of course we have hard days and moments where I lose my cool after a week of constant tantrums, bribery and negotiations, but I never expected to learn to be this patient and calm as a mother. Now if only I could channel it into the rest of my life…